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Future Governance – Time to Rethink, Vision, and Act

This is not a new potential board structure chart. What is good practice in the fast paced environment in which we operate? What must we do to understand the environmental changes requiring us to reconsider some of the assumptions that created the board structures typical in today’s Association community? This is a call to discuss the need for rethinking board responsibilities

This short paper focuses on the responsibilities that will make a board capable of adapting to the new environment and gig economy not the specifics of legal issues embedded in the IRS Code. These matters will need addressing, but they should not hamper us from exploring association challenges and opportunities. The lawyers will figure out the appropriate legal path when necessary.

Some structure matters are mentioned, but our major task is to reconsider responsibilities in an age of monumental change

Let’s not struggle through the traditional fiduciary responsibilities of care, loyalty, and obedience. They are fundamental to every board members role and responsibility. Unfortunately, in many board orientation programs, these responsibilities are dealt with only in legalistic terms. In a future oriented Association, board responsibilities must be seen in the context of the emerging environment rather than the present or traditional environment which we are more likely to know and understand

If you practice care, are you demonstrating you are responsible for future orientation as well as the current? Does not loyalty require seeing the Association’s vision and acting upon it in a thoughtful and learned manner? Doesn’t obedience require us to exercise responsibility for sustainability that is more than just financial

Associations of the future must have board members who are willing to take the risks associated with adaption. Like all living things, failure to adapt to the environment is a road to extinction

Thus, building a board culture of curiosity, being an action visionary, and ensuring sustainability is the responsibility of future oriented boards. Each board member, the collective board, and individually the board’s chair and executive have this responsibility. The new board responsibilities minimally require:

  •  continuous learning
  • scanning of environmental trends
  • oversight with the future as well as the present in mind
  • balancing tradition with future thinking, and
  • obtaining enough power to be ethically and fiscally sustainable

This is a time when change occurs at a pace that boggles the mind. Today, information overload seems to crush our ability to see clearly. Monumental and the societal changes have come with diversity, globalization, and technological innovation. Thus, association boards must assume an orientation towards adaptive thinking, scanning, evaluating, and considering the many futures in which the Association will be required to operate. Boards that fail the test of future orientation are not acting in the best interests of their Association. 

Here are a few items that require change and adaption:

  • Consider a new type of board job description that emphasizes future thinking with current practices
  • A board committee structure that begs for curiosity about the future
  • A new type of board orientation that accepts new ideas
  • Recognizing the principles of good practice and governance oversight reoriented with potential futures in mind as well as the next quarter
  • In selecting and appointing a new chief executive the board must not simply overcome what they see as past shortcomings, but consider one’s ability to operate in the many potential futures which the gig economy presents
  • Setting aside resources on a continuous basis to do both the current work and prepare for the potential work and sustainability of the association
  • Seeing stakeholder accountability as far more complicated and requiring a more careful consideration of stakeholders who may not be within the Association’s existing membership categories
  • A board structure that is not a matter of the association’s traditions or geography, but rather of an association poised to accept the challenges and opportunities that the future presents
  • A board self-appraisal that accommodates a future orientation as well as current operations

This is not the 20th century. This is not the industrial age. We are almost two decades into a new century. This is a time to recognize, learn, unlearn, and relearn what will make associations viable, responsible, and sustainable in the new century and in a new economy.

Adaption is not an option, it is the future!